Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Day Night" (from IFC and TWC in 2006) foreshadows the Shahzad incident

The Weinstein Company and IFC films offer the DVD of Julia Loktev’s reality film “Day Night Day Night”. The title refers to the 48 hours of agonizing drills and detail as an unspecified “She” prepares to end all experience on Times Square. That’s putting it gently. We don’t know what organization “She” represents or why she “believes” so fervently. We just see what she goes through, down to the detailed hygiene and all the cramped, latrine drills.

There is a sequence that reminds one of “Phone Booth” where she struggles to make connections through a pay phone, and then has to panhandle to get more quarters. She’s been told to pull pin if anyone suspects, and on NYC streets she gives plenty of opportunity to attract suspicion. This 2006 film is agonizing to watch.

One wonders if Faisal Shahzad could have known about this film or watched it.

Compare this to the film "Making Of" reviewed here July 23.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"Animal Kingdom", Aussie mafia drama, is effectively "Square II"; also a lesson in screenwriting from Michod

Australian director-writer David Michod has a discussion of how he developed the shooting script for his “Animal Kingdom” over a decade, here and I guess that screenwriting courses will look at this.

The Sundance winner seems like (Apparition and) Sony Pictures Classics’s “The Square II”, as if there were trilogy of Australian mafia movies in the works. This one is a little grimmer and less ironic than its relative from Apparition, actually made two years earlier, and with a different director. All in all, the series bears comparison with Sweden’s “Dragon girl” trilogy; you sort of expect Lizbeth to appear at any time.

The Animal Kingdom is set in the Melbourne underworld, in a city slightly cooler but still pretty California-looking. Most of it is seen through the eyes of “J” (Joshua) Cody (James Frecheville), 17, who moves in with his uncle’s crime family when his mother dies. “J” is actually a good kid who would go to college and do well in life if raised in a good family. He wants to do right here. But pretty soon he learns the dark side of “family values”, however perverted in the underworld, just as with “The Godfather” series. The family includes boss Pope (a wiry Ben Mendelsohn), partner Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton, who wrote and starred in “The Square”), and youngest and gay son Darren (Luke Ford), who has also been corrupted by the family, especially the wicked grandmother (Jacki Weaver), every bit as bad as Bette Davis. (An openly gay son could be the worst possible threat to a crime family’s continuation; another script could explore that idea.) A fatherly detective (Guy Pearce) tries to rescue “J” and take him in, almost like a son, and put him into witness protection (and maybe later back in school for a new life, which could never be out in the open). But then, in Coen Brothers style, things really go bad, leading to “J”’s own capitulation, dispatching Pope to bring the movie to an abrupt and shocking end. You’re left to wonder if the police wanted to use “J” to do what they couldn’t do legally.

An Oscar contender this year? Maybe. Best Picture (against US films)? Maybe. After all, Sony Pictures Classics is really “Columbia”.

Sony’s website for the film is here.

Madman and Porchlight Films (Aussie companies) provided this trailer.

These are big, ambitious, very professionally made films, every bit on the work of scale of major US studios.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World": Michael Cera becomes Superman

In a recent GMA or Today segment, Jason Schwartman talks about his role as a show producer (Gideon Graves) and arch romantic rival of Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera, from "Juno") in the new Canadian high-tech comedy “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, from Universal. He said, you don’t want to hurt Michael Cera, even when the comic book icon is pretty good in his element as a bass guitarist and rock band artist, and looks ready to take his musical and ballet act to Saturday Night Live.

Indeed, Cera looks girlish (or at least immature) and rambles in his “such a high pitched voice” (in the Army of the 60s it would have drawn a barracks limp wrist), but then he turns into superman, with powers (like those of Clark Kent), with all kinds of laser duels, pursuing his beloved Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Whatever his heterosexual desires, he even shares a floor bed (albeit on a separate mattress, sans bedbugs) with a gay “young adult” Wallace (a boyish Kieran Culkin). The script plays with the possibility that one roommate has to leave so that the other (either one) can have chosen intimacies with someone else. Maybe this is common with roommates. The script also plays on Ramona’s age, 17.

The film, directed by Edgar Wright, opens with Universals’ trademark music played on a moog synthesizer, but the full orchestral Valkyrie edition (YouTube link) is played at midpoint in the film. Also, some scenee (such as the fantasy of Scott’s afterlife on a desert) are cropped vertically from 1.85 to 1 down to 2.35 to 1, imitating the way smaller theater show widescreen films; this doesn’t work if the movie is shown in a full sized auditorium.

Here’s Universal’s official site. The movie was shot in Toronto, and the script references Toronto often. Oddly, there’s no DGC stamp in the end credits, which I expected.

Here’s the comic book site. The original graphic novels were by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Here’s a YouTube video of speculation about “Arrested Development”.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

"American Dream" doc about 1980s Hormel strike; also, "Children of the Night"

The documentary “American Dream” from Barbara Kopple and Cathy Kaplan, from Miramax Films (1991), covers the six-month strike against Hormel at Austin, MN in 1985-1986, by P-9 of the Food and Commercial Workers. The company tried to impose a $2 wage cut in a contract, to become more competitive during “Reagonomics”. Unions were already getting weaker, given Reagan’s defiance of the air traffic controllers in 1982.

The international union disagreed somewhat with the local, and the company took advantage of the situation, first using management to keep the factories open, doing “proletarian” assembly line jobs (making “spam”, just as in the movie “Sophie’s Choice”), and bringing in “scabs”. Existential battles and debates ensued, as families were threatened with losing everything. Eventually, with a settlement, the negotiators had to deal with the delicate problem of whether some people who had tried to exercise a “right to work” should be paid the same.

The film should not be confused with the 60's thriller "An American Dream" reviewed here July 6.

The DVD also contains a sixteen minute short “Children of the Night” directed, written and narrated by Marion Wiesel and (according to the film itself) also directed by Jolanta Dylweska. The film shows the plight of children in Nazi concentration camps. The children were not looking for peace or love, only lettuce, the film says. The background music consists of a movement from Bach’s Suite #5 in D Minor for unaccompanied cello.

Many high school English classes require the short version of Emil Wiesel's "Night" as mandatory reading around ninth grade. Teachers, kids, take note: school is starting!
There is a site for the Czech version of the short film here.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Hormel spam museum

Friday, August 27, 2010

"The Square": an Aussie Coen-style "for a little money" caper -- gone bad

Australian film can go over the top, with is sharp edges, usually set in scenery that’s easily confused with southern California. Forget “Inception”. The Aussies gave us the thriller “The Square” earlier this spring, that keeps the viewer running the whole time. I guess I could say it pays homage to the Coen Brothers: a style like “No Country”, a plot a little like “Fargo” but less funny, and a moving wide-screen camera that reminds one of Christophen Nolan. The soundtrack and somewhat muted lighting gives us a feeling of noir.

The film is directed by newbie Nash Edgerton, and I presume Joel (who acts as the firestarter and writes the script) is a brother. The original theatrical release came from this new distributor called “Apparition”, but Sony is handling the DVD (which means that the film could well have shown up under “Sony Pictures Classics”).

Raymond Yale, played by an everyman actor David Roberts, is a contractor working on a “town square” project outside Sydney. Bored with a sexless marriage (Lucy Bell), he carries on with a mistress (Claire van der Bloom), who brings her a story of about a cache of money from her gangster husband (Anthony Hayes). He has no interest in organized crime but cannot stop sinking into temptation. (Oh, could we use Frances McDormand, “all for a little bit of money”). The problem is that it doesn’t stop. They burn down the husband’s house, but not until Ray has second thoughts and wants to stop. The husband’s mother dies in the fire, making Ray a murderer. What follows is a “square” of deceptions and chases, including a scene where a man’s leg is run over by a truck, leading to a tragic denouement.

Sony’s site for the film is here.

YouTube trailer from TheUSVideos

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Jeepers Creepers" follows the script of one of my 1998 dreams; with Coppola, you never know!

CWTV seems to run an “MGM Showcase” in the summer, and I checked out “Jeepers Creepers” which I had not accidentally missed. I could say with Francis Ford Coppola and American Zoetrope involved (Victor Salva directs), you never know. I’d odd to see them involved with what seems like brainless horror (it comes from MGM/UA; it could have come from Dimension). Except that there is more point to it than I thought.

Darry (Justin Long) and older sister Patricia (Gina Phillips) are driving back from spring break through the northern Florida panhandle flatlands, when they start getting chased by “road warriors”, big evil rigs. Then they see a wrapped body being thrown down a chute near an abandoned country church. Darry does the geek “Justin Long” thing and decides he has a moral duty to investigate.

What follows is a chase where both kids and the cops do dumb things, while a demon with a pitchfork falls out of the air, looking for people to eat for body parts. Now, Justin Long is just too nice a kid for anything bad to happen to (I mean, he is absolutely perfect, like Christ), except in an American Zoetrope movie. You never know.

The imagery of the demon brings back a dream I had of a movie script/novel while I lay in a University of Minnesota hospital in early 1998 recovery from an acetabular fracture. I dreamed that the likeable protagonists had to go on a “nighthhike” and meet for a “tribunal” by some sort of pond where a UFO landed. (It was to happen in Wisconsin, near the Sparta bike trails, of course.) A “demon” like the one in this movie sets it up; some of the young men survive intact and others don’t. Then the second half of the movie has those that didn’t make it in some kind of Purgatory in a city in a parallel universe (call it Imajica), with no real life there that moves forward with any kind of self-expression; the characters must constantly move back in time, and relive things before the “tribunal”, but they keep on finding out that the laws of physics won’t let them change the outcome (because of the concept of a “time arrow”). All the while, the Demon floats above them in the sky, mediating the outcome (rather like “the Walkin’ Dude” in Stephen King’s “The Stand”, a TV miniseries in 1995). Finally, everyone learns their fate for eternity, some of them to live in a circular tunnel with no exit forever.

The jazz song “Jeepers Creepers” is catchy. I you hear it, you know that the Boogeyman is nearby and after you.

The “Boogeyman” image is telling for another reason. As I’ve related on other blogs, when I was living in a dorm at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, a suspected homosexual was viewed as a “boogeyman”, ready to feast on other men. That is honestly what some people believed in those days, a prejudicial urban legend that would help set up the debate over “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military three decades later. It’s interesting what old horror films (especially from Coppola) bring to mind.

The film had a sequel in 2003. Salva has a “JC 3” in production for 2011.

Picture: Daniel’s, a bike bar south of Baltimore MD.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Alice's House": middle class life in Sao Paolo has no privacy

The Brazilian film “Alice’s House” (“A Casa de Alice”), directed by Chico Teixeira, from Indiepix and FiGa films, and a hit at the 2007 Chicago Film Festival (and not “Alice’s Restaurant”) provides a “Rear Window” type look at a middle class family in a crowded, “middle class” apartment in Sao Paolo. Alice (Carla Ribas), middle aged and married to a taxi-driver (Scorsese notwithstanding) works as a beautician, and walks a tightrope in the domestic relations between her mother, around 80, who “owns” the apartment and does all the housekeeping, and her three sons, who do what they want and ignore the grandmother. The film impresses us with how "ordinary people" in the middle class in the developing world have nothing like the privacy we expect, and must negotiate the world of social posturing.

The grandmother is growing blind, and the men in the house want to put her in a nursing home, even though the home is not theirs, for their convenience. Slowly we learn about the intrigues: flirtations (on both sides – and nothing “Shy and Mighty” about them) are dissolving the marriage, but in the meantime the three brothers seem to share a little more than normal brotherly love, or rivalry. Junior (Felipe Massuia) is eager for girls, but is somewhat of a mark because he is so “beautiful” and accommodating. The oldest brother Edinho (Ricardo Vilaça) is an Army lieutenant despite living at home, but works as a hustler (apparently with both male and female clients), perhaps a tangential notation on America’s fight over gays in the military (I think Brazil has lifted the ban a long time ago). The middle boy Lucas (Vinicius Zinn) seems to be playing mediator a bit, but sometimes is the most assertive.

The film seems a bit like a stage play, as it goes outside into the streets of the city rather infrequently, so we don’t get a real feel for the place. It seems more European than it probably is; we don’t see poverty (remember Pixote (1981)?) . The film is in Portuguese with subtitles.

The director says he never went to film school. He does not like background music because he thinks it distracts from the reality of the drama. As in “Rear Window”, he likes normal street sounds.

Monday, August 23, 2010

"BoyCrazy" is an LGBT musical "short subject", in the format of a full operetta; a note about Reel Affirmations DC

Well, last week I watched PBS reprise “South Pacific” and today I found a 24 minute musical on Logo, “BoyCrazy”, from director John Sobrack and Nearlife Films, dated 2009.

70% of the lines are sung, so the film is almost an operetta, with music by Trevor Cushman, very major-keyed and a bit saccharine. James May plays a late 20-ish HR head in an LA company who makes new “friends” in the workplace john (above board), and whose behavior is definitely not to be copied in real life. And it doesn’t seem he is monogamous.

Despite the “short” nature of the film, it feigns an “Intermission” (with a non-drag can-can revue) and a Part I and II, and even a Reprise.

Logo has gotten harder to navigate lately, and the films load slowly, at least for me, on normal cable broadband. Many of the old favorite shorts (like “Bugcrush”) are gone.

The link for this film is here.

A film like this would normally be screened at DC’s Reel Affirmations festival, which has been reported as postponed until Spring 2011 (GLBT blog, Aug. 2). However the “OneinTen” home page still has it listed for October 2010 (link ).

Here is the RA19 video.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"The Extra Man", a wacky Gatsby-like comedy; hint: most cross-dressers are straight!

I recall a legal case in the 1990s where a lesbian reporter in Washington State was transferred to “copyediting” to avoid “conflict of interest” and this was a big deal. On the other hand, I like hearing, in a movie, that a transfer from “sales” to “writing” is a good thing for a “creative” person, and I might question whether copyediting is really creative writing. I also recall a workplace situation myself where a music graduate was working for a Canadian company directing the sales of symphony orchestra season tickets by phone, rather than composing and performing. In fact, I know another rock musician who sells long term care and Medicare supplemental insurance for a “living”.

All this ran through my mind at a point toward the end of “The Extra Man” where Louis Ives, played by a very tender-skinned Paul Dano, has things turn out well. It’s a quirky tale where a Louis gets fired – or laid off – from a small college literature teaching job in New Jersey after being observed in an incidental cross dressing experiment. Louis, seeing himself as a kind of Nick Carraway from F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (“the only honest man in the world”) narrating the lives of others or watching his own life narrated, moves to New York and rents a room from the eccentric and moralistic [he opposes the education of women, which he says affect them in the “boudoir”] ex-playwright (maybe), Henry Harrison, played by an aging Kevin Kline, and becomes an extra high-fashion male escort at social events, scraping by on little money, while scraping by as a telephone salesman for an environmental journal (where befriends a geek played by Katie Holmes).

The most interesting scenes may be the follow-on cross dressing experiments by Louis, some of them with paid female tricksters; Louis fulfills the maxim that most transsexuals (including drag queens at gay clubs) are straight, and some actually find cross dressing as part of a heterosexual ritual. And Dano (actually 26) looks, oh, so youthful and innocent. Klive looks decrepit, particularly in the scene where he shows a bizarre tattoo on his balding leg.

There’s a subplot involving neighbor Gershon (John C. Reilly), who has such a high-pitched voice – something about whether a play or story can be “stolen” (remember “Secret Window”?)

The film, from Magnolia, in Cinemascope, is directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.

A Sunday afternoon showing at the Cinema Arts in Fairfax VA was about half full, but the film showing stopped before the end credits.

Magnolia’s site for the film is here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Mao's Last Dancer" shows what the "absolute justice" of the Cultural Revolution really looked like

I recall back in 1972 a conversation with a People’s Party Candidate for Congress (from New Jersey), a comment by him that the “Chinese” were the only people who were “getting it right.” Various left wing books published in the late 60s characterized Chairman Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”, where almost every intellectual (except those at the very top) took his turn being a peasant,, as achieving “perfect justice”. In a sense maybe it did. Nobody could get out of things, or buy their way or outsource themselves out. Everybody paid his dues. Some people like to see that. "Fairness" can come at a perverse price.

The new film “Mao’s Last Dancer”, directed by Bruce Beresford, shows how brutal and sickening peasant life was in rural China in the early 70s, in muted flashbacks on the life of Lu Cunxin (Chi Cao), upon whose autobiography the film is based.

In the main story, he gets his chance to go to the US, hosted by Ben Stevenson (Bruce Greenwood), who lives alone in a big house in Houston, to work with the Houston Ballet. He marries Niang (Joan Chen), upon the suggestion of a lawyer, in order to get to stay in the US, setting up a critical confrontation scene at the Chinese Consulate in Houston. Yes, this seems like an “unfairness” in marriage laws.

Much is made of the threat that he could put his parents and siblings in jeopardy back in China, but the Chinese relent and lift the ban on his reentry eventually, in 1986. There is a climactic scene where Cunxin, his smooth body pasted with glitter, dances to Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” at the Washington DC Kennedy Center.

The film was made by an Australian company (Village Roadshow Films, usually associated with Warner Brothers) and shot in Beijing, Houston and Washington. There is other music by Mozart, J. Strauss, and Tchaikovsky.

Samuel Goldwyn’s site for the film is here.

YouTube trailer from Roadshow films.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Patrik Age 1.5" explores adoptive parenting by a gay male couple in Sweden

The Swedish comedy “Patrik Age 1.5” (aka “Patrik 1,5”), directed by Ella Lemhagen (and from Regent and Here!), presents the issue of gay parenting.

Two thirtyish gay men, an attractive slender doctor, Goran (Gusttav Skarsgaard) and security man Sven (Torkel Petersson), married legally and living in a postcard suburb of identical gingerbread houses, seek to start a family by adopting a foster infant. But a bureaucratic snafu mistakes the age and the kid Patrik (Thomas Lungman, a young actor to watch) turns out to be a homophobic delinquent at 15. But Patrik has real skills (gardening, and skateboarding, as if he could become the next Shaun White). After the relationship goes south and Sven leaves because of the tension of the situation, Patrik starts becoming attached to Goran, who acts as a real father and makes Patrik believe that with school and discipline he can have a good life. When a “traditional” family becomes available, Patrik wants to stay with Goran, and Sven comes back.

The film is shot in HD video full aspect ratio (2.35:1 Panavision Digital), and looks sharper than most 35 mm film. The setting of the village is rather stagey and artificial, but the surrounding countryside is interesting, just as in the Swedish “Dragon Tattoo Girl” movies which seem to have been filmed in the same area.

Despite the liberal Swedish society, there is scattered homophobia from the rest of the community. In one sequence, a straight man doesn’t let Goran do a prostate exam, and soon finds out he has advanced cancer.

The website for the film is here

An early Friday evening show at Landmark E-Street in Washington DC was about 2/3 full in a small auditorium.

The film reminds me of the 1995 book "Getting Simon", from Bramble, by Dr. Kenneth Morgen, where a gay male couple, one of whom is a physician in the Baltimore area, adopts a boy.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Eat Pray Love" is spectacular but rather self-indulgent as a memoir film

Back in the 50s, television game shows used to offer a choice between Rome, Paris and London as destinations of prize trips, so it seemed at first that Elizabeth Gilbert’s choice of Italy, India, and Indonesia as destinations for her “year off” seemed a bit arbitrary, although in the long film “Eat, Pray, Love”, the segments (rather seeming like separate documentary episodes on the National Geographic Channel) seemed to mesh.

The film, directed by Ryan Murphy and from Columbia Picture (and Plan B), looks so grand that I wondered why it was filmed in “only” 1.85:1; it seems to deserve Imax. The volcano scene in Bali was most striking and perhaps prescient. Curiously, the film’s style, though, suggests it wants to be appreciated as if it were an indie.

Everyone knows by now that the movie is based on a memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) after her divorce which followed difficulty in conceiving. It seems rather self-indulgent, as if Gilbert should have watched Tracey Jackson’s “Lucky Ducks”. Gilbert has the luxury and good fortune to study her own feelings. (The title of the book was “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia”; okay, the three words in the title do map to the three destinations).

The most interesting part dramatically is probably the middle, in India, where Gilbert has to pay her dues by scrubbing floors, something expected of every resident of the ashram. It sounds almost like rehab.

She starts getting some real life back in Bali (I saw this film right after seen “South Pacific” on PBS yesterday); the script made an odd reference to the 2002 terror attack. Javier Bardem is about as convincing as a future husband as was Billy Crudup or James Franco as a boy friend back home in New York.

I liked Julia Roberts better as Erin Brockovich than as Elizabeth Gilbert. But I guess I’m supposed to.

Here is the official site

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Since Otar Left": a post Soviet family tries to "protect" its matriarch from news of an emigrated son's death

Another film about family intergenerational ties, healthful or not, is “Since Otar Left”, ("Depuis qu’Otar est parti") directed by Julie Bertucelli, from Zeitgeist (2004).

Three generations of women live in a modest apartment in a poorer section of Tbilisi, Georgia, in the post –Soviet-breakup late 90s. The infrastructure has a way to go; power failures occur frequently, and the women are somewhat skilled in “self-sufficiency” with gardening; the city still looks ragged. The matriarch Eva (Esther Gorintin, herself about 90), her daughter Marina (Nino Khomasuridze) and and Ada (Dinara Drukarova). But Eva’s son Otar, probably in his 40s, left Georgia to go to Paris to work and sends money to the family. Otar has a medical degree but no visa and works in construction illegally, and dies in an accident. The legal situation probably delays the family’s learning the truth, but eventually the daughter gets a call. In fact, Otar remains unseen in the film.

The women live with a great deal of “natural family” intimacy, bathing and pampering Eva; the younger mother and daughter share a bed. To some people the intimacy may seem gratuitous., They decide to deceive Eva, and keep the letters flowing, trying to imitate Otar’s cursive writing. Eventually Eva, whose mind is sounder than the family thinks, wants to go to Paris to see Otar. The family goes, and Eva seeks out one of Otar’s housemates, who tells her about the death. So Eva puts on a charade of not knowing. Evnetually Ada decides to stay and build a new life in Paris.

Eva is still attached to Communism, and in one sequence denies the atrocities of Joseph Stalin (when compared to Hitler). The granddaughter has an appealing boyfriend who has introduced her to freedom and capitalism. There are some political discussions, as about the past Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The overall concept of the film reminds one of the 2003 German film “Good Bye Lenin” (directed by Wolfgang Becker, Sony Pictures Classics) where a young man hides the fall of the Berlin Wall from his Communist mother.

The DVD contains 12 deleted scenes and a long featurette about making the film, with emphasis on still photos from Tbilisi, and the practical difficulties of working with a screenplay in three languages (French, Russian and Georgian).The special features on the DVD add up to almost as much time as the film itself (1 hr 40 min).

Zeitgeist’s website for the film is here

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Netflix in deal to stream many more movies quickly; Disney studio retreats from creative film

Netflix is reaching a deal to provide subscribers quick streaming content for films distributed by Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM. The news story appeared in the New York Times Aug. 10 with Brian Stelter, link here (in a blog called "Media Decoder").

Netflix is purchasing the rights from a company called Epix, which is said to be a competitor of HBO. Curiously, in the late 1990s the name “Epix” was involved in a curious trademark case involving the Clinton Street Theater in Portland, OR (mentioned her Aug 14, 2009) and a tech company; neither organization seems related to the TV channel.

MGM, once one of the grand old studios (connected to United Artists, which Tom Cruise is trying to bring back), has produced little output recently under its own name, mostly small films, and needs rehab (maybe from Oprah Winfrey?) Everybody knows Paramount (for VistaVision), but LionsGate used to specialize in small independent films and has moved into much more ambitious films in the past two or three years. Apparently everything from LGF is “independently produced”. LGF is traded on the NYSE and is said to be “in play”. Hopefully, it merges it will keep its outstanding brand identity, with that great musical trademark that opens films with a bang (Here is the Youtube link ).

Roger Ebert, in reviewing the South Korean film “Mother” (here, yesterday) mentioned that the Walt Disney Studio had announced that it was going to make only 3-D animation kids films, and franchise epics—as he made the case for the importance of independent film. Of course, Disney can use the Touchstone brand for more substantive fare.

Will Miramax merge back with the Weinstein Company?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Mother": South Korean film; a helicopter mom protects her disabled son

The South Korean film “Mother” (“Madeo”), directed by Joon-ho Bong, presents a thriller and small town mystery based on momism, but with the natural human ambiguity so common in Asian cinema, rather than with the crisp irony of a Hitchcock film (like “Psycho”).

Yoon do-Joon (Bin Won) is a 28 year old man considered mildly retarded or perhaps somewhat autistic (he was apparently poisoned as a child), living with his mother (Hye-ja-Kim) in a relationship that looks a little oedipal to westerners. The film makes a lot of her practice of acupuncture. When a young woman is found slain, he is arrested for the crime, and a public defender is appointed, who works poorly. So Mother goes out and gumshoes to save him, and show how he was vulnerable and framed.

The boy's relationship with Mom would be offputting to some. Really, his demeanor is generally pretty "normal" but he seems an outcast because of his offline reputation. When asked by a chum Jin (below) if he has ever been with a woman, he says he has slept with his mother, which he does. In one scene, his mother feeds him while he is relieving himself along a public street, creating a moving long shot after he leaves. Mother fears he cannot feed of take care of himself, and feels responsible.

Technology plays a role in the plot, as the victim had made cell phone videos of her activities, leading to clues for the police, as well as playing into the well known social controversy surrounding teen “sexting”.

The setup of the framing is sudden (occurring almost at the beginning of the film), involving a hit-run accident, and Yoon’s chasing the car with Jin-tae (Ku Jin), vandalizes the car at a golf course, and picking up a golf ball (not a good idea), which then, slightly later (and after the cops write off the hit-run and vandalism as canceling each other out) connects him with the female victim after he encounters her at a local bar and follows her to a house, and then she shows up slain on the roof of the abandoned house. Some viewers have questioned some detailed plot inconsistencies dealing with the boy’s capabilities. He does, however, leave at the last moment and apparently doesn't enter.  This whole sequence, lasting about 20 minutes, flows quite naturally and convinces the viewer how vulnerable to boy is to circumstance that he doesn't quite get, and actions whose possible consequences he doesn't see.

The film has an intense mood, with a sizzling orchestral score, creating an atmosphere a little bit like that of the Millennium movies.

The rental DVD has a half-hour short (some of it in BW) on the making of the film, and an interview with composer Byeong-woo Lee, who explains how he uses a theme with upper melody in Major ("CBABG") and accompaniment with a minor triad to create the emotional effect. The orchestral writing sounds schmaltzy, rather like Richard Strauss in spots.

I could not find this film on Magnolia’s site.

Trailer from zinnia112 on YouTube.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", first of the Millennium series from Sweden

The first film of the Swedish “Millennium” trilogy (from Music Box and Yellowbird) is the now renowned “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (“Man som hatar kvinnor”), directed by Niels Arden Opley. But I saw the second film first, and this one, filmed in full Cinemascope and longer, seems to establish the style of the trilogy more decisively.

Right at the outset, we know that the thrillers, based around some particular characters, most notably lesbian computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and publishing magnate Mikhael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) have a political import. The media is reporting Mikhael’s conviction for criminal libel, and impending jail time as well as punitive financial settlement. It’s pretty unusual for people to go to jail for libel (maybe less so in Europe than the US), so you think there’s a point. It seems that Mikhael has made enemies, and was set up by an industrialist with false evidence so he could be accused of libel, but the industrialist was actually guilty, just based on other evidence. Mikhael’s own family, even siblings, are put at risk. That’s a heavy point.

Enter Lisbeth, who is working for an investigative firm as a hacker, who determines Mikhael was framed. But Lisbeth has been let out of a mental hospital, and, even though an adult at 24, has to listen to a brutal “guardian” to spend her own money. She has to fight him off.

Meanwhile, Mikhael (on bail with six months before his sentence) gets hired by another elderly industrialist, Vanger, living on an island, with a complicated family history, with a 40 year old disappearance to solve. Vanger suspects foul play, and it is one of those “Clue game” (or maybe “Mr. Ree”, a 50s board game everyone has forgotten) problems where the family members (about 30 of them) are like game tokens. Lisbeth contacts Mikhail and forms an alliance, to get away from the guardian, and helps him solve the mystery. And, yes, there will be some twists at the end.

This is a grand film, almost like “Shutter Island” or “Ghostwriter”, and you almost expect to see Di Caprio walk on; the brooding music reminds one of the mood of “Inception”. The film has a flashback (involving a “crime” Lisbeth did commit on her abusive father) that will become more important in Film 2 (reviewed here July 25).

The film is still showing in some AMC theaters, despite DVD availability, and it was half full at a Saturday early evening show in Arlington VA. The Music Box link is here.

When I first heard about the film in the spring, the title was a bit of a turnoff personally. The film is much more that the genre piece that I first envisioned.

Empire Magazine YouTube interview with Rapace:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"Beautiful Ohio": growing up in the shadow of a genius brother

Chad Lowe’s 2005 “coming of age” film “Beautiful Ohio”, based on a story by Ethan Canin (and adapted for screen by that author) is structurally interesting in that the first 75 minutes (taking place about the time of Watergate) the “prequel” to a telescoped tragic conclusion years later, involving HIV. That may be the spoiler. But it’s so often the case that the early days of a person’s life, before “coming out”, tell the real story.

Brett Davern plays William Messerman, the 16-ish younger brother, with modest piano talents, of Clive (David Call), who is a math genius, winning contests at school, but living in shadows himself, with bong hits and rock musical instruments. Clive’s own talents seem like those of the “Superhumans” series on History Channel; he can do instantaneous head calculations, and he describes mathematics as a “cathedral”. He’s also good with electronics and inventions. But he speaks in a pedantic style, rather like someone with Asperger syndrome. The parents, raising their boys in a suburban Cleveland home, are played by William Hurt (as Simon, who makes his living prosaically as an insurance agent) and Rita Wilson (as Judith) .

Now Judith tells her younger son that they will be close as brothers for life: that is something parents can do in marriage, create filial bonds among their kids. They will need one another. Judith has great confidence in William’s own music talents, which seem modest in the film (he is struggling to play a slow piece by Satie).

The film ventures into some nice scenes along Lake Erie, which arguably could happen at Crystal Beach, out west toward the nuclear power plant and Sandusky. But actually much of the film was shot in NY.

There's an odd conversationw here Simon tells William that grades (a snap for his brainy brother) are currency and a ticket to good jobs; that's all employers see (not true).

The denouement starts with a ping-pong game between William and his father -- somewhat after William has lost his virginity on the beach with Sandra (Michelle Tractenberg). There’s a dark secret in the basement, and it involves Clive’s own intimacies.  Yet Sandra was supposed to be Clive's hidden girl friend (in the basement, literally).

Ohio does appear in movies and TV sometimes: some of “Days of our Lives” seems to be set in the middle of the state, and the book Authoritas by Aaron Greenspen, associated with the founding of Facebook, talks about growing up in Cleveland. Back in the 50s, it was the “best location in the nation” when my family made annual summer trips (the Indians were good), before it fell to rust belt recession.

The film is distributed by The Weinstein Company and IFC Films.

Wikipedia attribution link for Cleveland picture.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Life During Wartime" is Todd Solondz's "Happiness II" with an echo of "The Chase"

I recall seeing “Happiness” by Todd Solondz (site ) at the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis back in 1998, and was a little breath-taken at the time by the frankness of some of the goings on – the psychiatrist Bill has disturbing fantasies, both violent and perverse, and, as I recall, communicates them; but, worse, eventually acts on them. I also recall “Storytelling” (not exactly a Speakeasy) and “Palindrome”.

So a decade later “Life During Wartime” becomes “Happiness II” as a sequel  black comedy, picking up the story a decade later. Bill (Ciaran Hinds) is getting out of jail and coming home (now to Florida), setting off rumors rather like that of Bubber Reeves in “The Chase”. Trish (Allison Janey) has told her younger son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) that his father is deceased, and the boy has to deal with the truth, which he does in a kind of Asperger fashion, using bad words in a funny fashion (in anticipation of his Bar Mitzvah). Eventually, there will be a confrontation of sorts in the dorm room between Bill and his older son. The boy gets into a lot of talk about “forgetting” vs. “forgiveness,” and equates his dad’s crimes to terrorism. There is the odd comment that the perpetrators of 9/11 are not around to be forgiven.

There are other subplots in the family, with characters who materialize and disappear, rather like that of a David Lynch movie (especially the opening restaurant conversation).

Here is IFC’s blog entry on the film, link.
Artificial Eye’s trailer

Monday, August 09, 2010

"The Memory Keeper's Daughter" from Sony/Lifetime manipulates some family secrets

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter”, from Sony Pictures and Lifetime and Mick Jackson, in 2008, set up a sequence of family moral dilemmas from the novel by Kim Edwards.

A doctor, David Henry (Dermot Mulroney) helps deliver his wife’s (Gretchen Mol) fraternal twins in a 1964 blizzard, and finds that the girl is born with Down’s Syndrome. He fakes the girl’s death, not wanting the “burden” of a special needs child, and places her in an institution to die. A loving nurse (Emily Watson) with a truck driver, eventually her husband, takes Phoebe home and raises her, and she thrives, growing to adulthood.

Over the years, David also becomes a renowned photographer after his wife gives him a camera, giving a show in Pittsburgh (maybe in the Andy Warhol Museum, I wondered). He keeps Phoebe a secret and sends money, and the nurse never lets him see her. The son, Paul, wants to be a musician, and the family has trouble with that, leading to rebellion, but eventually he flourishes and apparently goes to Julliard (the “Everwood” plot device).

David and Nora divorce, and then David suddenly dies of an aneurysm. Paul finds the pictures and evidence of his fraternal twin sister’s existence going through the belongings, leading to a reunion.

Sony Pictures (Classics?) DVD offers this YouTube trailer.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

"Le Concert" explores the politics of music in the former Soviet Union; a stirring climax with Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

The French-Roumanian-Russian film “Le Concert” from Radu Mihaileanu (distributed by the Weinstein Company) is a meditation on social and political redemption through music, but it is also somewhat a feel-good experience in the tradition of “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”

Back in the 1970s, Andrei Simoniovich Filipov (Aleksei Guskov), conductor of the Bolshoi Orchestra, had been fired for hiring Jewish and gypsy musicians (showing that the post-Salinist Soviet Union followed some of the same prejudices as the Nazis). Today he is a "proletarian" janitor, not allowed to even see the performances until his work is perfect. But when the orchestra, now in Paris, has a vacancy, he gathers together the old musicians for a special concert. And his choice for solo violinist Anne-Marie Jacquet (Mélanie Laurent) has, through her family, a special connection to the past gulags.

The first part of the film takes place in Moscow, and gives us an on-location sense of what the city is really like. (The land around it is very flat.)

The work for the concert is the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D. In the final concert, the orchestra stumbles and plays the introduction out of tune, but gets itself going and turns out a memorable performance. The movie telescopes the concerto, distracting for moviegoers who know the concerto by ear, short circuiting the great climax at the end of the first movement. It would have been possible to consider playing the entire 35 minute work and extending the movie by 20 minutes or so (then it would be just over two hours).

The movie has a scene where a vinyl record from 30 years ago of Filipov’s performance on Mahler’s First is played (the third movement). It uses plenty of other classical music, including the slow movement of Mozart’s 21st Piano Concerto. (Will a movie try the 26th with some polytonality? Look at my June 20 “drama blog” post.)

The back story of the movie, often told in black-and-white flashbacks (the film is shot in Cinemascope) reminds one of the politicization of music in the former Soviet Union under Communism, probably best known to many music lovers with the music of Dmitri Shostakovich.  The film will be especially pleasing to "conservative" audiences.

Amost as much of the film is in Russian as in French.  Some of the indoor scenes were filmed in Roumania, Belgium, and probably the Czech Republic (the Czech Philharmonic is used).

The Sunday afternoon showing at the Landmark in Bethesda MD was about half full.  Why is this important film in only one theater in the DC area when it comes from a major indie distributor?

Website for the film is here

YouTube trailer from Euorpacorp.

"Twelve": Chace Crawford on a bridge from the world of "Gossip Girl"

Joel Schumacher is known for taut big studio thrillers like “Phone Booth” and “8mm” (as well as John Grisham’s “The Client” and “A Time to Kill”), has ventured into small independent film with an almost stageplay like approach to suspense and social confrontation, as in the new film “Twelve”, from Radar, Gaumont, and Hannover (the latter is a little known distributor that has more titles than you would expect), which apparently bought it at Sundance. The film, written by Jordan Melamed and based on the novel by Nick McDonell, plays out on upper East Side Streets, discos and apartments.

Chace Crawford plays the preppy guy Mike who is always sober, so that, as his girl friend complains, he can feel superior to his clients. Although a little grizzled, the Texan still looks physically perfect, hairy and smooth at the same time, and beckons us back to the world of “Gossip Girl” on CWTV. (See my TV blog, June 7, 2010, for that show, where the same supercilious attitude of superiority reigns among the kids). Now, with a pop who works as a chef or waiter and a mom who drained the family while dying of cancer (the film shows flashbacks of Mike hugging her while she is bald from the chemotherapy), Mike deals on the side (especially an admixture called “Twelve”) while acting as socially confident and ivy league as possible, while his buddies crash. Soon his cousin is murdered, and his best friend gets arrested for the act. Inevitably he has to deal with his own dad, and the collapse of his façade, but not until he goes down in a sensational apartment shootout battle at the film’s climax.

I love the “anti-Marxist” tagline, “No one needs anything here. It's all about want.” Keifer Sutherland provides a muffled narrator’s voice, as a kind of omniscient observer for a novel. Also note the line “You are petrified. You will not be remembered if you die now.”

Here is Hannover’s site for the film.

Chace Crawford Online has this YouTube trailer. Note those gams!

On a Saturday night early show, a Regal in Arlington VA had a sparse crowd.

The film has no relation to Terry Gilliam's apocalyptic thriller 'Twelve Monkeys".  The other famous film based on a number is David Fincher's "Se7en" ("Seven") for New Line.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Albert Brooks's "Mother" becomes a writer herself

Well, momism has always struck me as a shameful topic, but it doesn’t bother actor/writer/director Albert Brooks in Paramount’s 1996 film “Mother” (not to be confused with a recent unrelated Korean film).

In the opening scene, sci-fi writer John Henderson (Brooks) and his wife is talking to their lawyer (Paul Collins) whose most important question for the divorce is “to whom do I send the bill?” And we learn that Henderson has frequent writer’s block and is threatened, in the eyes of his literary agent (himself hanging on to marriage precariously) with permanent status as a “midlist” writer, not good for careers with trade publishers. (Self-publishing and desktop publishing hadn’t quite caught on in 1996.)

But with no shame, John moves back in with this mother (Debbie Reynolds) to find out “what women want”. Divorce is getting pretty socially acceptable, but he’s had two strikes already. The soundtrack plays an adaption of the “Mrs. Robinson” song from “The Graduate” with “Henderson” put into the lyrics. In time, he will find a hat box with her own unpublished children’s stories (after he notices she is pretty good at typing on her Apple computer, pre IMac days). Mother never had her writing career because she was a mother. And John is proud of her because she was a “failure” (there’s a paradox). But then, she’s no longer Mother, she’s a fellow professional writer.

Move over, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

YouTube: Albert Brooks and his new national anthem.

See also June 23 for review of short film on mother-son relationship.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

"Crossfire" (1947) anticipates eventual debate on "don't ask don't tell" with another issue

There was actually an attempt to make a movie about “gays and the military” (not “in”) back in 1947, a mystery about the apparently motiveless slaying of a young man just back from the War, apparently by a soldier just getting out of the Army. Of course, we know the newer films (“Any Mother’s Son” and “Soldier’s Girl”). But for this film, “Crossfire”, the Hays Office objected to the theme, and it was converted to a film about religious intolerance, anti-semitism.

The RKO Radio Picture was based on the novel by Richard Brooks and directed by Edward Dmytryk. In the novel, a gay Marine is beaten to death by fellow Marines. A short on the DVD explains the change from the book to meet the productin code, and how Hollywood started dealing with social intolerance in 1947 ("Gentleman's Agreement").

Robert Young plays police Captain Finlay, who interviews a number of characters, especially his friend Mitchell (George Cooper), who seems implicated as the prime suspect by circumstantial evidence. The story is setup through flashbacks as told by the various characters, as the ugly truth comes out. There is a scene where Findlay says the motive is something inside the suspect himself. It has to be something that says “you can go to our country club.” Findlay goes on to give a complete discussion of irrational hate, making someone else “the enemy.” "Hate is like a gun." The Army has to deal with intolerance within its ranks (Truman had not yet integrated the military when the film was made, but the issue really has relevance today).

There are some clever lines in the script, as “a soldier won’t go anywhere until we tell him to”, as if soldiers had no lives when back on their own. The script uses cautious words ("people with 'funny names'") to describe “the truth”. There’s an odd line about quartering soldiers (the Third Amendment).

The opening scene of the BW film uses “shadowing boxing” against an apartment wall in an interesting way. Later there is an interesting simulation of alcohol intoxication, with double-images that would almost work in 3D.

Robert Ryan is Montgomery, and Robert Mitchum is Keeley.

The "film noir" technique used different lenses to show a progression in the descent of Montgomery as a character.

The film had a "B movies" budget of $500000.

Film Noir Filmmaking trailer by “Indy Mogul”:

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

"Cats & Dogs": I like to see cats get equal time

Well, I guess Warner Brothers is giving equal time for cats. Well, not really, because “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” directed by Brad Peyton, starts out with our more social carnivore, derived from wolves, protecting worldwide secrets. But pretty soon arch enemy Kitty Galore, the hairless cat who had been dunked in a vat of depilatory (remember “40 Year Old Virgin”) is on the scene, and the canines figure out it is best to make friends with the more civilized cats.

There are people around, like a magician, and family man Shane (Chris O’Donnell), in San Francisco, not less – even if this is the SF of Vertigo.

The cat is the only animal who just shows up at the door and invites himself or herself in. In Dallas, I had a stray, Timmy, who recognized the sound of my car and would run to the apartment door and claw, trying to reach the doorknob. Then it was right for the refrigerator. Once he tried to hide my car keys.

The “Real 3-D film” is presented in standard 1.85:1. That presented an issue when WB added a 2.35:1 cartoon short “Coyote Falls” (Matthew O’Callaghan), which it presented cropped on the narrower screen (in a large Regal auditorium), even though the curtain could have been opened further. The animation showed some bungee jumping, and has a nice tunnel shot at the end (there is one in Zion National Park, which the cartoon scenery resembled).

The site for the film is here.
From “YouTube” and “Trailers”:

Monday, August 02, 2010

"The Last Time I Saw Paris", 1954 classic about a delinquent writer

The Last Time I Saw Paris” was in May, 2001, for one night; I could find the little hotel today, not too far from the Eiffel Tower. My trip in 1999 was much more troubled because of family circumstances, and that brings me to a point about this 1954 MGM classic film. It rather recreates my situation as a writer and being alone a lot, but in retrograde.

Van Johnson plays Charles Wills, a journalist who covered the liberation of Paris after D-Day and then V-E and finally V-J days. He meets two sisters separately (not knowing that they are related) and marries Helen Ellswrith (Elizabeth Taylor), and has a little girl, and builds a family. Now, he has authored one book, and apparently been published; but he is having trouble with rejections now (what author didn’t have trouble breaking in?)

Helen’s father, James (Walter Pidgeon) was picky about who his son in law would be, but after Helen and Charles marry, James gets lucky with some land in Texas. As a result of the wealth, Charles gives up the writing and becomes a playboy (rather like in “Magnificent Obsession”), where as Helen grows more responsible, but dies from a separate bout of pneumonia (the film is graphic with the 50s era oxygen tents). Helen’s sister Marion (Donna Reed) get s back at Charles by taking the little girl Vicki away from him (because she had secretly loved him).

The film shows the birth of Vicki, and late in the film, she says "Daddy, I thought you would have gray hair."
So far this film (directed by Richard Brooks) anticipates later soap operas from Douglas Sirk, but the really curious point is that Wills didn’t value his writing more (albeit done on a noisy typewriter in a room with other reporters and writers). He didn’t give up writing in order to seek some other profession to support a family; writing would have supported the family, a turnabout from what we expect.

The movie is based on a short story “Babylon Revisited” from F. Scott FitzGerald.

I guess a delinquent writer in 1954 is not the same as a delinquent blogger today.

The DVD comes from Westlake rather than MGM, and the Technicolor is quite faded.

The film’s title song is by Jerome Kern with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II.

Wikipedia attribution link for old picture  (above) of Paris, here.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

"Farewell": French thriller offers theory as to how a lone KGB defector encouraged Reagan to change the world

The French-Russian “thriller” by Christian Carion, “Farewell”, ("L'affaire farewell") based on the (supposedly) non-fiction book by Serguei Costine, from 2009, distributed by Neo Classic films, quietly started making the arthouse rounds this weekend. It’s not so much a thriller as a mood piece, maybe an inversion of the effect of “Salt”.

A good-hearted French engineer Pierre Froment (Guillaume Canet) is approached by a Soviet agent Sergei (Emir Kustuirica) who wants to “change the world” after Ronald Reagan is elected and pass on Russian secrets. As the film progresses, we see the family lives of both men, but particularly Sergei, whose motive is family values: so his brilliant son Igor (Evgeniy Kharlanov), probably the most likeable character in the film, can have the opportunities that come with political freedom.

The scenes in the Oval Office with Fred Ward playing a foppish Ronald Reagan are a bit laughable, but Willem Dafoe is credible as Feeney, the agent who can set up everything invisibly behind the scenes. The case that the intelligence justifies Reagan’s 1983 proposal for “Star Wars” is a little hard to follow.

The film makes effective use of Moscow and Russian countryside (it needed to be shot in full widescreen), and gathers momentum as it progresses, with the KGB torture of Sergei, but most of all the clandestinely arranged escape by Pierre across the border into Finland. I have an episode like that early in my novel draft, where the part-time CIA agent (having picked up a mystery artifact in the woods) rams the border, whereas his pursuer strikes the border guard in an accident. I thought this would happen here, but “truth” would be even more subtle.

The denouement also makes a case for living in silence, keeping quiet once you reach the good life. The world of intelligence doesn’t support “do ask do tell”.

It’s still hard to connect all of this to the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 and even the abortive “Commonwealth of Independent States”. That would make a good topic for a movie.

The website for the film is here.

Wikipedia attribution link for satellite image of Moscow